Recently, I joined a book club. It is easily one of the smarter and more enriching activities I have participated in post-college. We sat on a comfy couch in a bright apartment in the West Village one Saturday afternoon. We ate freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and macarons, drank tea, and discussed The Light We Lost (Reese Witherspoon read it after us).
As we examined our likes, dislikes, and interpretations of the novel, I was struck by how much I was learning about the other women in the room; one, who I knew from work and two, who were new faces. We were talking about our feelings on the storyline, themes, and characters, but we were also sharing our own experiences. We told stories of love and loss. Our values came through when we brought up what we thought the protagonist should’ve done. We took what we learned from the story and explored our own lives. We abandoned small-talk and focused on listening to each other and relating to one another and the book.
I loved spending three hours hearing the thoughts and opinions of other people who shared the same joy of reading, eating cookies, and dissecting relationships! It got me thinking about the places we go to find community and connection with the world outside ourselves.
I remember studying European history in high school. We spent a second discussing the women’s sphere that was considered in the home and the men’s sphere that was considered out in public life. While separate spheres for men and women are undeniably sexist today, the idea that there are spheres that exist for people to be true to themselves is compelling.
I found a sphere in my book club that allowed me to explore topics that I’m curious about, understand the perspectives of people like me, share laughs and intimacy, and leave with a sense of warmth and happiness for the time I spent with others. Since I have sought out similar spheres.
I’ve discovered other niche pockets where I find comfort in authenticity, honesty, and dare I say, realness? Like book club, small-talk is left at the door when I’ve attended The Moth and Bring Your Own Story (BYOS) dinner. There is a closeness I experience with strangers when I’m in these intentional spaces where respect, gratitude, kindness, and truth is not optional.
I reflect on places like The Wing, WeWork, Primary, Assemblage, and other places that have a social component to their co-working spaces. They are all trying to tap into the human need to engage with other people on a level below the surface. We are constantly searching for home once we’ve left home, and with time and trial and error, we find it in communities that support our identities and places where we can partake in our interests.
These spaces are important to combating bullying, mental illness, isolation, and loneliness. The give us a sense of purpose and belonging that we sometimes lack when we are going about our day-to-day lives and fulfilling obligations. When we can go out into the world knowing that there are people near or far who understand us, relate to us, believe in us, and support us, we are much better off.
There is a profound irony when I think of how we’ve built a world that we aren’t sure we even want to live in with all the walls and fences between us and others. Instead, we have made communities for the parts of ourselves that we want to share and they live within the bounds of the artificial world we’ve created.
Zoom out to places like the gym, the library, that coffee shop you like to go to, and they are all places where you can walk your authentic walk and talk your genuine talk. Whether it is an online community or a place around the corner, there has never been such a wide variety of places to be you, so take advantage of it and don’t abuse it. There is power in being you and raising up others to be themselves, too. Now, go out and find your book club.